In a volleyball district like 31-5A, there is no security in the third and fourth playoff spot. Every game is tight and destinies are uncertain. Currently, the battle for the last two spots mathematically involves four teams: McAllen High,McAllen Rowe, McAllen Memorial, and Edinburg Vela. Memorial staked its claim for the third spot with a straight sets win over Vela 25-14, 25-11, 25-12 Saturday at Vela.

“It’s a good game that gets us ready, we have a tough couple weeks, our district is intense,” McAllen Memorial head coach Ashley Doffing said. “There is no security (playoff spot)…this was good, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Amare Hernandez led the Mustangs with a barrage of thunderous kills, 13 of them, laser sharp serves and stout defense at the net that kept Vela at bay. Memorial consistently set up Hernandez up on the left side where she mixed delicate touches and taps with powerful kills that kept Vela guessing. Hernandez herself is a mix of delicate touches, power and focus. She smiles at every tap and scowls for every kill, but her focus is undeniable.

“I just think it’s important to take each game by game, and each day by day and practice… in the mornings we’re focused, after school we’re focused…I think we got to have the same mindset, volleyball is not a six-person sport, it’s a 14-person sport, and we need everyone to be on their A-game,” Hernandez said.

While Memorial controlled the tempo and overwhelmed Vela with a steady diet of bump-set-Hernandez, her merepresence also created opportunities and allowed setters like Ashley Garza to craftily dump the ball over and score as the defense prepared for Hernandez. Leah Garcia and Kaitlyn Martin contributed heavily at the net and brought their own thunder when necessary. The Mustangs contributions come from Doffing’s “next man up principle” that has helped them recover from an injury-plagued season. Karly Bazan, who was questionable before the game, played tough at the net and provided offense in limited playing time.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve been battling injuries all season, but it has been the next man up because they support each other out there,” Doffing said.

The loss for Vela is not a death sentence, their destiny is still unwritten. Before the last set, Vela were last to break their huddle. Those extra words and instructions served them well as they came out strong and jumped to an early lead. Vela proved their mettle and why they are in the mix for a playoff berth. Danika Verdooren led the SaberCats with her timely kills and gritty defense at the net.

“This meant a lot to us, it could’ve helped us, it was a rough three sets for us. Our focus is to do as much as we can to secure that last playoff spot, anything for that spot…it means a lot to us,” Verdooren said.

The strength of this district cannot be overstated. Vela’s path has a gauntlet of Tuesday games against playoff contenders that will test them and provide playoff clarity. They will host district leading Sharyland in Tuesday’s matchup, followed by Rowe and McHi.

“In our district every match is a battle, and we continue to fight these awesome teams in our district, and on any given night, anything can happen,” Vela head coach Araceli Ortega said.

Memorial’s next three games are no easier. They face crosstown rival McHi on Tuesday followed by Sharyland and Pioneer. All indicators point to one date, October 21. By this date, the playoff picture should be clear.